The phased mutual pullback of troops from the standoff site at PP-15 near the Kugrang Nallah, with dismantling of temporary structures erected in the area and the creation of a “no-patrol buffer zone”, was initially slated to be fully completed by Monday.
Sources, however, said there has been “a slight delay” in the overall disengagement process because the final physical verification is still to be carried out by the two sides. “It should be completed by Tuesday,” a source said.
The buffer zone at PP-15 will be the fourth one to be established in the over 28-month-long military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh. The earlier ones, varying from 3-km to almost 10-km, came up at PP-14 (Galwan Valley), PP-17A (Gogra) and Pangong Tso-Kailash Range region after troop disengagements at those face-off sites.
A major concern is that the buffer zones have largely come up in what India claims to be its territory, putting a stop to patrolling by Indian troops in those areas. In the buffer zone on the north bank of Pangong Tso, for instance, Indian troops withdrew westwards to their permanent Dhan Singh Thapa post between ‘Finger-2’ and ‘Finger-3’ (mountainous spurs) in February last year.
Chinese troops withdrew from ‘Finger-4’ to its Sirijap positions east of ‘Finger-8’. In effect, Indian troops can no longer patrol an around 10-km stretch in ‘Finger’ area now, though Indian maps show the line of actual control runs north to south at ‘Finger-8’.
Moreover, China till now has flatly refused to de-escalate the major face-off at the Depsang Plains, where its troops have been actively blocking Indian patrols around 18-km inside what India considers its own territory since April-May 2020.
Echoing these concerns, ex-Army chief General VP Malik (retd) said there is “no need to make much” of the disengagement at PP-15 because it is just “a tiny step” after the encroachments by the PLA in April-May 2020. “Every disengagement takes longer and longer. Major friction areas, Depsang and Demchok where five PPs are blocked, are yet to be resolved. China continues to maintain that LAC ‘was illegally crossed by India’,” he tweeted. The creation of buffer zones is also no guarantee that PLA will not transgress hereafter.